Below the snow belt: Satellite ski towns

“SATELLITE SKI COMMUNITIES ARE THE new dream,” according to Powder magazine Though a little farther from the ski slopes, so-called satellite ski towns still have easy access, a vibrant cultural scene, and are more affordable. The foothills is blessed with an abundance of them:


Auburn helped bring skiing to the Sierra. The Auburn Ski Club was formed in 1928 by resident Wendell Robie. Skiing expanded from small club-operated hills to the opening of Sugar Bowl in 1939. Walt Disney was an original investor.

Less than an hour from the major ski areas, downtown Auburn is vibrant with a town square, complete with a fire pit and benches. Old Town Auburn is oozing with charm.

“Auburn has gone from a quaint outpost for antiques to a vibrant city bubbling with young doers and creative outdoor types making Auburn happen,” according to its new website. “A new generation has moved in, and now the remaining antique stores mix with modern boutiques and award-winning breweries, wineries, restaurants, art galleries, live music, even its own symphony orchestra.”

Auburn has preserved its past, including a theater restored to its 1937 condition, an historic courthouse and a Gold Rush museum, among other attractions.

The town is setting a gold standard for wining and dining. The restaurateur of Monkey Cat and tre Pazzi trattoria comes from the San Francisco dining scene. In Old Town Auburn, Carpe Vino restaurant is a four-star dining experience with a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef.

Old Town Auburn is now home to Alehouse Annex Tap Room & Provisions, across the street from Auburn Alehouse.

Downtown Auburn soon will be home to a retail store of The Baker & The Cakemaker, a popular artisan bread bakery.

Auburn’s lodging ranges from new suite hotels to charming inns and B&Bs. Park Victorian has a “stay and dine” program with Carpe Vino. Art galleries include Auburn Old Town Gallery.

A weekly farmers market near the Old Courthouse features fresh, local produce from surrounding farms. Wineries and farm stands are located just outside of town on bucolic “roads less traveled.”


Downtown Grass Valley is livable, walkable and historic. Whether you’re shopping, dining, staying or playing, you’ll find an abundance of options. The dining scene is among the most vibrant in the foothills. Restaurants offer a wide variety of fare, such as pizza, sushi and steak.

Grass Valley is a top destination for entertainment in the region, thanks to The Center for the Arts, Del Oro Theatre, and restaurants and wine tasting rooms that offer live music. The art scene includes Art Works Gallery in a restored Gold Rush-era building on Mill Street.

Lodging options include the Gold Miners Inn and Grass Valley Courtyard Suites. The Gold Miners Inn and Grass Valley Courtyard Suites offer free wine and beer, and appetizers for après ski. Courtyard Suites has launched a new art hotel theme, featuring local art. The Holbrooke Hotel is closed for renovations.

A half dozen news businesses, ranging from an organic eatery to a men’s store — recently have opened in the historic downtown. These include Sunchild’s Parlor, MeZe, Element & Loft, Beautiful by Katia, and Watershed at The Owl — all on Mill Street — and Local Culture, Scuzi’s Barbershop and His: A Gentleman’s Sundry, on Main Street.

Others are opening, including Pour House, Mom & Minis, Cake, and Ellu Gallery. The Center for the Arts’ $4.2 million renovation campaign broke ground last fall, and it is expected to be completed in the summer.


Though known for its leaf peeping, hiking trails and pristine swimming holes in the South Yuba River, historic Nevada City also is an extraordinary winter retreat.

Usually below the snow line, Nevada City is only a one-hour drive to ski resorts on Donner Summit, including Sugar Bowl, Boreal and Royal Gorge, North America’s largest cross-country ski area.

In town, the restaurants, wine tasting rooms, brewpubs and bars are hopping. The arts and culture scene includes live music, theater and art galleries. The town also offers unique shopping experiences, including some that are ideally suited for winter. Lodging choices, including Victorian inns, B&Bs and motels, abound.


Kirkwood Mountain Resort is easily accessible on Hwy. 88 from the Gold Rush towns of Sutter Creek, Volcano and Plymouth in Amador County. The ski area is only 15 minutes away from Sorensen’s Resort and Café.

Amador County’s lodging options include deluxe hotels, charming inns and B&Bs. Volcano has the Union Inn, and Plymouth has a boutique hotel called Rest. Both have superb “sister” restaurants.

(Photo: Keith Sutter)

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